Mike Trout, Mickey Mantle, and the Reserve System

If only the Mick had a chance to get paid in today’s environment.

The Angels didn’t show Mike Trout and his agent Craig Landis the money. Not yet, at least. They won’t have to for a couple more seasons.¬†Trout received a $20,000 pay raise from the Angels, who renewed his contract Saturday. To his credit, Trout was humble. However, Landis was not pleased. Sure, his $510,000 salary is a mere pittance compared to the value he’s likely to contribute this season. But at least Trout will have the opportunity to get paid full market value in the not so distant future.

The way the current reserve system works in baseball is that a team can renew a player’s contract for the first three years of service time. The next three seasons are arbitration years (unimportant to this article, but some players can hit arbitration earlier), and after six total years of service time comes free agency. Trout’s raise (or lack there of) is simply a product of Major League Baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement.¬†Barring anything unforeseen, Trout and Landis will have their day. Of course I understand the fact that an agent wants the best for his player, especially coming off an MVP-caliber season. But this is the landscape of the league as it presently stands.

Let’s put it this way: things could be worse for Trout. Substantially worse, in fact. This story should be a reminder of baseball’s old reserve system, prior to the institution of free agency in 1975. Prior to that date, a team had rights to its players for essentially as long as they wished. There was no free market for the players to obtain their true value, and thus no negotiating leverage with their clubs. One of the best examples of this relates to one of the all-time great Yankees, Mickey Mantle.

In 1960, Mantle took a $7,000 pay cut after a “bad year” in 1959, nearly a 10% reduction from his $72,000 salary in 1959. By bad year, I mean 7.3 WAR, 31 home runs, and a .285/.390/.514 slash line (152 wRC+). It was a relatively substantial drop from his 1958 season (9.2 WAR, 187 wRC+), but still a monster performance. Plus, it was essentially the prime of his career: he still was 246 home runs short of his 536 carer total. This system would have some uses now (looking at you, Alex Rodriguez), but I digress.

Mantle played for $65,000 in 1960, equivalent to a $505,682.43 today. The most he ever made, per his Baseball-Reference page, was $100,000 beginning in 1963. His salary was renewed for the same amount for the remainder of his career, making his largest single season earnings, adjusted for inflation to 2013, $661,724.14. Mantle, among many other players prior to the free agency era, wish they could have been in the league now with the players’ union’s strength at its peak.

Hang in there, Craig Landis. It must be really tough to represent a guy as good as Mike Trout.

By Bowman Gum [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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